Highrise project draws praise and concerns
Proposed redevelopment of Grandin mall attracts a packed house
Saturday, Mar 29, 2014 06:00 am
Some residents are applauding a proposed downtown highrise project. Others not so much.
Some 250 people attended an open house on Tuesday night on the planned redevelopment of Grandin Park Plaza. The mall’s owner, Amacon, wants to develop an urban village with 17 buildings, including three highrise towers, boutique shops, a grocery store and underground parking.
The residential towers are planned to be 23, 24 and 27 storeys high. At this time, Amacon cannot go beyond 19 storeys and has to work with the city on approving its project.
“We are not in the business of going ahead with things that aren’t supported by the community,” said development manager Simon Taylor. “We have a very good reputation for listening and following along with these processes.”
The public meeting, which took place inside Grandin mall, saw a packed room with some people standing or having to lean against walls during the two-hour discussion.
A number of them voiced their approval for the project, saying they were looking forward to the redevelopment of an “unsightly” mall, the addition of more diverse housing options in the community and potential benefits to local businesses.
But there were also many who expressed concerns about the height of the proposed complex, privacy for neighbouring homes, increased traffic and the viability of the company’s plans for retail development.
Mark Reid, urban designer with Urban Strategies Inc. (a company that works with Amacon on the project) said privacy for those backing onto the development would still be a concern if Amacon was contemplating towers with a height up to 19 storeys.
He said the company decided to build fewer highrises that are more spaced out to allow for privacy of those living inside the towers. The design also lets more light into the development and avoids creating a wall of buildings along Sir Winston Churchill Avenue, he said.
He disagreed with arguments that the highrises would adversely affect the values of homes in the area.
“Probably (property values) will go up. But we are not here to debate that,” he said.
The first phase of the development is not expected to change traffic patterns in the area. For subsequent phases, Amacon will submit a revised traffic impact analysis to be approved by the city, Reid said.
The analysis will also address potential concerns about increases in traffic blocking access to nearby Fire Hall No. 1. Generally, emergency vehicles have signal priority and cars are not expected to block the intersection in front of the hall, he said.
“Your own transportation department needs to be satisfied that all of the transportation response elements including response time will work,” he said.
He added that Amacon is required to create and adhere to a construction management plan, which will outline when workers will access the site, and how their traffic will impact the neighbourhood.
Some residents raised concerns that the sewer systems in Grandin have worked poorly in the past. They are worried that adding more residents to the area would increase existing problems.
Reid said Amacon is looking at current volumes and is working with the city on possible upgrades to the sewer system and infrastructure. The site is also mandated to have stormwater retention on each property to control discharge rates, he said.
Regarding potential flooding, Amacon will keep the retention walls on the east and the south sides of the site during the first phase of development, said Taylor. Future drainage options will be considered to prevent any flooding issues, he said.
“The last thing we want for (our retail tenants) is a flood,” he said.
A number of attendees questioned whether bringing in national brands as part of the retail development on the site would impact local stores in St. Albert’s downtown. But Reid said the retail component will benefit everyone in the community.
Amacon is planning to provide a mix of retailers, from national to local brands and stores, he said. The company has not determined what kind of stores would go into the development, but it could include a smaller anchor store, such as a Sobeys, he said.
“Scotiabank is a national chain. We like to retain them. There are other national chains that could come but we would also like to support local mom-and-pop businesses,” he said. “We think there is a mix that can accommodate all of that.”
Another person asked if Amacon could lower the towers by not adding additional retail in the bottom.
Reid said the company changed its plans to create higher towers because it wants to retain the office building and wants a better looking site. He added that the project, including its retail component, offers many interesting opportunities for residential and employment growth in the city.
“Part of your council’s priorities is cultivating economic prosperity. We think that we can contribute to that,” he said. “If this just becomes a discussion about height, that to me is unfortunate.”